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Friday, November 24, 2006

HELLTOWN by Dennis O'Neil

HELLTOWN is a recently released novel by Dennis O'Neil, a prose version of the story of Vic Sage, the Question, that O'Neil wrote in comics form back in the late 1980s. As I've mentioned before, that series is one of my favourite comics, so I had to check this out. It's a little odd, parts of it work really well, some work well because they resonate and expand on stuff in the comics. Other parts would probably work better to someone not as familiar with the original comics, as the prior knowledge only makes the differences more distracting. Overall I did enjoy it, but I'd probably suggest that anyone interested check out the first year of the comic (which I wish they would reprint, but back issues aren't that hard to find at a reasonable price) before reading the novel.

For the most part this story follows the first four issues of the comic, with the major change being that while the comic book had Vic Sage already having long since adopted the Question identity and being an established reporter, in the novel he's freshly returned to Hub City at the beginning, and becomes a reporter and meets the supporting cast and only adopts the Question mask and identity after his encounters with Shiva and Richard and (in a greatly expanded role) Batman. It also borrows some later story elements (most notably the buried alive story), as well as adding a lot of new stuff that veers pretty sharply from the original story.

I can see the reasons for this, especially the increased Batman, but I probably would have preferred an adaptation that hewed closer to the source material. I liked the feeling in the original that there was a long prior history of the characters and the Question identity, and don't think the character suffers at all from not having an origin, and the storyline works better as a turning point than a beginning.

The parts of the book that do work, in particular the scenes with Vic interacting with Richard and with Aristotle Rodor, are really good, O'Neil at the top of his game stuff. If you're a fan of the original comics it's worth reading the novel for those alone. Some of the other characters don't come across as well as they did in the comics, in particular Myra kind of gets the short end of the stick since her best scenes came later in the series, and I'm sorry that Izzy O'Toole doesn't find his way into the novel at all. So a bit of a mixed bag, overall, but solidly entertaining.

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